Catching Willie Mays (in a children’s book illustration)

How perfect that award-winning children’s book artist Terry Widener has done the pictures for the new picture book by Jonah Winter (just released by Schwartz and Wade) about the greatest all around baseball player ever — Willie Mays.

Terry brings a background of high level advertising and editorial illustration and something else to the many children’s books he’s done on sports figures: The sensibility of a gifted athlete.

Too small to play football on school teams, Widener focused on baseball and mainly golf, which he still avidly plays. In fact he attended art school at the University of Tulsa on a golf scholarship.

After graduation Terry had to choose between two job offers — one as the golf pro at a country club, the other as an ad agency art director. It could have gone either way; Terry went the advertising art route because it paid just a little more per week.

He went on to do design and illustration work for major publications and ad agencies — for national and international clients like Coca Cola, Burger King, The Franklin Mint and Aesculap (a German orthopedic implant manufacturer. )

His first kids’ book illustrations were for Lou Gehrig — The Luckiest Man by David Adler (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace) named a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor book, a Texas Blue Bonnet Reading List selection, an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year and an SCBWI Golden Kite Finalist, and received the IRA Teacher’s Choice Award.

Since then his books have attracted more honors and recognition,  including Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, School Library Journal  Best Book of the Year, the Junior Library Guild List, the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show, the Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and other awards.

Terry paints in acrylics. He’s experimented with a variety of styles in this medium, though now he works in a more painterly, naturalistic style, in the “Old School” children’s book art style of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

That he’s done so many children’s biographies of sports heroes is purely coincidence, he says. What’s no coincidence is the sophisticated-simple design that he brings to these pictures of action and excitement in the ball field, boxing ring and competitive swim lanes — and the comfy authority with which he treats historical settings and scenes.

These videos are excerpts from an in-depth interview Terry gave me for students in the Make Your Splashes — Make Your Marks! course. For more information about this online course on illustrating children’s books, or to receive e-mail news from the “Marks and Splashes” online learning community, go here.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays? by Jonah Winter (Schwartz and Wade) features a lenticular cover illustration. You know those “wiggle pictures” that seem to move when you look at them from different angles? You’d find them  sometimes as surprises inside Cracker Jacks boxes. Schwartz and Wade wanted to use lenticular printing for the covers for this series of picture book sports bios.

The process required Widener to come up with three paintings for the cover. The paintings would animate Mays knocking the ball out of the park, in one of those 50 home run hits of his career.

Terry had to model himself swinging a bat to avoid relying solely on the photos and videos he’d pulled together of the real Willie Mays in the moment — lest he and the publisher end up in a battle with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated over intellectual property!

When dealing with images of sports icons and other stars, be careful to not copy your source material, Terry cautions. Your references are probably all copyrighted!  He couldn’t even render newspaper sports pages of the day as they were, he says. To use them in an illustration he had to change them up a bit — even the wording in the headlines!

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With his art director wife Leslie Widener (also a children’s book author-illustrator) Terry lives in a 100-year-old house in historic McKinney Texas, a few miles north of Dallas, Texas. They’re members of the North Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Terry enjoys doing school visits and receives many invitations for them each year. He can often be coaxed to draw for students in a collaboration where they “art direct” his improvised sketches on the white board.

For a list of Terry’s books and awards go here and to see the covers of some of his books, go here.

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Terry doesn’t illustrate only books on sports heroes. He takes on a variety of projects, like this series of picture books on folks songs with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

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IMAGMark and Terry (Laura photo)

Mark Mitchell and Terry Widener share a chuckle at Texas Educational Service Center Region One school librarian’s conference in Harlingen, Texas in September 2012.
(Photo by children’s author-poet Laura Purdie Salas) http://www.laurasalas.com)

Austin SCBWI Kick It Up a Notch! conference delights and inspires 

Renowned illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis headlined the Austin SCBWI 2013 conference, Kick it Up a Notch! last weekend at St. Edward’s University. (Below) E.B. drew for pre-K and K students at the Regents School in Austin, Texas.

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He also inspired middle grades at the school.

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E.B. Lewis dazzled illustrators and writers alike with an impromptu watercolor demonstration at a Sunday workshop following Kick It Up a Notch!

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Austin, Texas based illustrator Patrice Barton received the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for her art for the picture book Mine! by Shutta Crum (Knopf) in the reception that kicked off the Austin conference. She and Crum presented a workshop about the making of Mine!.
See the video interview Patty did with this blog about illustrating Mine!

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Caitlin Alexander won first place in the conference Portfolio Showcase that was judged by E.B. Lewis, publisher Neal Porter and agent Rubin Pfeffer. Caitlin receives full tuition to next year’s Austin SCBWI conference and a $200 cash prize from the social media firm, Alter Endeavors, owned by Austin SCBWI’s Nick Alter. Erin McGuire won second place and Laura Logan and Amy Farrier tied for third place in the portfolio competition. All won gift cards from Jerry’s Art Supplies. Photo by author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Google Drive for Artists free replay

Sign up to see the full recording of the workshop on Google Drive and other great Google tools for illustrators, presented by Pooja Srinivas. Yes, it’s free!

And finally, here is my nomination and vote for the ultimate Valentines Day book.

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Mark Mitchell, who sometimes edits this blog wrote this post.

A party in February

Erik KuntzAmy Rose Capetta and Nick Alter made this video of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2012 Regional Conference, Something for Everybody. 

I get a kick out of how the thumbnail on YouTube shows me in the crowd, getting a hug from illustrator Marsha Riti. So of course I had to include it here.

Erik, our web designer and webmaster and Nick, our chapter’s social media strategist produced the video around Amy Rose’s wonderful portrait photography. They put it all together on the fly — while the event was still happening, in time to show the attendees at the day’s end.

You don’t want to miss hearing the Muppets in the video’s second half.

My own photos will never be as good as Amy’s — but they’re illustration-centric and include shots of the illustrators’ intensive session by Patti Ann Harris, senior art director for Little, Brown and Co.

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Yes, it was all back in February! But the experience feels fresh still. Highlights for me were a session Patti did with Random House (Golden Books) editor and author Diane Muldrow on the art director/editor relationship at a house  — and a special award that our chapter presented to two of its beloved members:  Authors Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith. The award recognized this married pair for being our chapter’s friends/mentors and Ambassadors for the Austin Kid-Lit Community to the world.

I loved how the Girllustrators organized the illustrators’ print and original art donations for the silent auction and ran herd on the portfolio room and portfolio competition (won by Jeff Crosby.) They represented our group splendidly.

Others’ thank yous were given out many weeks ago. But I’ll add mine now — thanks to the Girllustrators, our terrific guest faculty, especially author Lisa YeeDebbie Gonzalesour chapter’s regional adviser (RA) and assistant RA Carmen Oliver, also Meredith Davis, Shelli Cornelison, Samantha Clark, Sheryl Witschorke  and so many volunteers, and Sister Donna Jurick, Ramsey Fowler, PhD. and Rebecca Rodriguez of St. Edward’s University who allowed their beautiful campus to be our base for the second year in a row.

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The “Girllustrators” who coordinated the Portfolio Showcase and portfolio contest. Left ro right standing are Emma J. Virjan and Shelley Ann Jackson, seated – Divya Srinivasan, Marsha Riti, Patrice Barton and Amy Farrier — with Emma J. Virjan, Marsha Riti, Patrice Barton, Amy Farrier and Shelley Ann Jackson at the Mabee Ballroom at St. Edward’s University. Not pictured are Lalena Fisher, Tiffany Vargas and Amanda Williams.

A Crystal Kite for Patty

Austin SCBWI’s own Patrice Barton joins Michigan SCBWI’s author Shutta Krum in winning a 2012 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for their picture book Mine!

The Crystal Kite is given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators each year to recognize the best books from 15 regional SCBWI divisions around the world. Peers, children’s book authors and illustrators in the 15 divisions, vote for their favorites.  Mine! was the winner for the Texas-Oklahoma Division.

Last summer we interviewed Patty for Marks and Splashes course students. In this excerpt from video interview Patty did for students of the Marks and Splashes course  she talks about working on the illustrations for Mine! 

 And remembering Maurice Sendak

Who brought many of us back to children’s books — when we thought we’d left them behind long ago.

“I just drew baby after baby after baby…”

It was a treat, as always to visit with children’s book illustrator Patrice Barton.  

In these two videos Patty tells us a little about her artwork for the picture book Sweet Moon Baby written by Karen Henry Clark (Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Patty graduated with a B.F.A in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a graphic designer for the Texas Department of Public Safety and a freelance commercial artist before she decided to focus on children’s book illustration, the art specialty she loved most.

She began with assignments from children’s magazines and educational presses. Gradually her client list grew to include major children’s trade publishers — Farrar,  Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers and Scholastic Book Club, in addition to Knopf.

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Children's book artist Patrice Barton talks to students at the Austin Museum of Art Art School

Here are some of the takeaways  from our discussion last month.

She says “yes” to the manuscripts that pull her in emotionally. She passes on assignments where the writing does not affect her.

When illustrating a book, she plows into sketches, often working on tracing paper to discover her characters.

She’ll place tracing paper over her drawings and sketch on it to build her compositions and scene interactions.  Much of this work she’ll throw away. The “keepers” she’ll puzzle out out how to fit into her scene composites.

Her process  involves trial and error and a lot of drawing before she comes up with the images that (she feels) will do the best job of bringing the page to life.

Patty likes to show her editors black and white value studies of her sketches (painted on the computer in Corel Painter) before she works out the story’s visual flow, pace and page turns in a series of experimental dummies of various sizes.

When everyone has signed off on her monochromatic sketches she brings her line drawings (that she had scanned into Photoshop into Corel Painter and paints them in color.

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Double page spread from "Sweet Moon Baby" by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf)

And she endures with good cheer and good faith the numerous requests from her editors for changes and redo’s that are a fact of life for a professional book illustrator — even one as highly talented and diligent as Patty.

The two videos are from a 90 minute recorded interview Patty did for students of my Marks and Splashes online course on illustrating children’s books. (We’re incorporating monthly interviews with children’s book illustrators into the lessons.)

Next time on the blog, Patty will walk us through her process of creating the art for the well-reviewed picture book Mine!  by Shutta Crum (Knopf) and give us a sneak peek at Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Allison Wortche, which Knopf plans to bring out in December.

In more children’s book art news…

The InteractBuilder contest deadline for creating your own interactive touch screen e-book for Interact Books has been extended to October 15.

Version 2.5 of the free software will be released by the end of August or early September, the developers say.

“There are a A TON of new and exciting features that will allow you to create even more compelling interactive books,” this week’s announcement from InteractBuilder added.  “And do not worry, any book you are working on will convert automatically, there will be no extra work needed unless you want to take advantage of one of the new features.”

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The Austin SCBWI symposium Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change  set for  Saturday, October 8 has opened registration.  Among the workshop and panels on the program:  Creating and Maintaining Your Web Persona presented by Erik KuntzThere’s an App for That presented by Amanda Williams,  Paper to Pixels: The Art of the Digital Paintbrush presented by Clint Young,  Storytelling in the Digital Age: Imagine presented by Ezra Weinstein and  Children’s Book Illustrators and Technology presented by the Girllustrators — and really so much more.

SCBWI Executive director Lin Oliver will deliver the keynote from California via SKYPE. Her topic: The SCBWI’s recommendations to illustrators and authors on how to evaluate publishers in the digital marketplace.

The ground-breaking event at St. Edward’s University will be the place to learn about e-books, interactive books for touch screen devices, iPhone game apps from Austin, Texas developers — as well as to meet and network with them. Registration is only $75 for SCBWI members.  You can read more about the symposum here. 

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Mark Mitchell teaches an online course on illustrating children’s books, “Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!” 

Check out the course Facebook pageFacebook group and companion blog.
Please “like” or join them if you’re so inclined to do so. 🙂

Discover a “big secret” of making better drawings.